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How are IELTS Band Scores Calculated

While achieving any target, we need to have a goal in mind. Cracking IELTS with the best band score may be difficult but not impossible. 

The blog describes the IELTS band scores in detail and how you can boost your individual and overall band score.

How IELTS Scores are Calculated

IELTS is a standardised English language proficiency test divided into four main sections: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. 

The IELTS examiners evaluate these sections on a 9-band scale. That is to say, you get a band score from 0 to 9 for each test.

Scores from individual tests are then averaged and produced as an overall band score, which is also between 0 and 9.

Let us look at an example. 

The following are the individual scores of a student. We will see how to calculate his overall score.

ListeningReadingWritingSpeaking
9877.5

The student has received 9 in Listening, 8 in Reading, 7 in Writing, and 7.5 in Speaking.

We add these scores to get the total as 31.5. It is now divided by 4 as there are four individual scores. So, you get 7.875 as the average score.

This score is then either rounded up or rounded down.

For instance,

  • If the average overall score is 7.25, it would be rounded up to the next half band. As a result, the overall band score will be 7.5.
  • If the average overall score is 7.1, it would be rounded down to the next whole band. Consequently, the overall band score will be 7.

In our case, our overall score would be increased to 8, as its average is 7.825.

Now we will see how each band is defined and in which ways we can climb the ladder to achieve more.

Band descriptors

The table below describes each band with the required English skill level. 

BandSkillsDescription
8Very goodComplete operational command with some inaccuracies
7GoodComplete operational command with some misunderstandings in a few situations
6CompetentEffective operational command with some inappropriate usage
5ModestBasic command on communication

To read more about all the band scores, click here.

Listening and Reading Band Descriptors

Listening and Reading sections are assessed on the total number of correct answers. You get 1 mark for each correct answer. There is no negative marking for incorrect answers.

These tables show the marks required to achieve the targeted band score from 5 to 8 for Listening and Reading.

Listening Band Score (Academic and General Training)

Band scoreMarks out of 40
835
730
623
516

Academic Reading Band Score

Band scoreMarks out of 40
835
730
623
515

General Training Reading Band Score

Band scoreMarks out of 40
838
734
630
523

Writing Band Descriptor

The writing tasks are scored on:

  • Task Achievement and Response
  • Coherence and Cohesion
  • Lexical Resource (Common for Writing and Speaking)
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy (Common for Writing and Speaking)

Writing Task Band Descriptor (Task Achievement and Response)

Band scoreWriting Task 1 DescriptorWriting Task 2 Descriptor
8• Articulates key features covering all task requirements• Addresses the position with relevant ideas
7• Articulates key features covering all task requirements but not fully expressed
• Academic – clearly states prominent changes and key trends
• General Training – clearly presents purpose with an apt tone
• Clearly presents the position
• Supports main ideas but overgeneralised ideas with inadequate focus
6• Sufficiently highlights prominent features of the task with irrelevant or inaccurate details
• Academic – clearly states the information
• General Training – states the purpose with inconsistencies in tone
• Mentions all parts but a few of them are less covered than the other
• States the position with unclear ideas and conclusion
5• Addresses the topic with an irrelevant format
• Academic – no strong points to support the irregular data presented
• General Training – inappropriate tone and unclear expression of the topic
• Does not adequately addresses the task
• Incomplete ideas and no complete conclusion drawn
• Inadequate support for the main ideas

Task Achievement emphases on the level to which the task has been accurately answered. Here are some points to keep in mind to have good bands in the Task Achievement section.

For Academic Writing Task 1: 

  • Pinpoint all the main features of the diagram
  • Ensure correctness when mentioning facts, data, processes or trends
  • Summarise the key features or inclinations from the information given in the diagram to write a clear overview
  • Do not write the conclusion to the topic
  • Provide sufficient detail
  • Spend 20 minutes on this task
  • Write at least 150 words (ideally, 160 to 180 words) to avoid being penalised.

For General Writing Task 1:

  • Mention the reason for the letter
  • Cover all the points listed in the question
  • Have a consistent tone
  • Spend 20 minutes on this task
  • Write at least 150 words (ideally, 160 to 180 words)

For Writing Task 2:

  • Plan your task with proper ideas and explanation
  • Sequence them in paragraphs
  • Support points with experience or examples
  • Ensure your objective is clear throughout
  • Answer all the essential parts asked in the question (underline the main points)
  • Spend 40 minutes on this task
  • Write at least 250 words (ideally, 260 to 280 words) to avoid being penalised.

Writing Task Band Descriptor (Coherence and Cohesion)

Band scoreWriting Task 1 DescriptorWriting Task 2 Descriptor
8• Sequences ideas logically with paragraphs• Sequences ideas logically
• Breaks into appropriate paragraphs
7• Progresses information throughout the piece but sometimes over-/under-uses• Progresses with ideas clearly
• Some under-/over-use of cohesive devices
• Proper usage of main ideas
6• Presents thoughts accurately but incorrect usage of cohesive devices• Coherent progression of ideas
• A few faulty sentences
• No logical paragraphing
5• References irrelevantly, with lack of progression and cohesive devices• Inadequate progression and organisation
• Inaccurate usage of cohesive items
• Inadequate paragraphing

Coherence and Cohesion is one of the most critical marking criteria of the Writing test. 

Coherence is taken care of when your write-up is logically sequenced and properly organised. It lets the examiner to easily follow what you have written and evaluate your organisational skills. 

For having a proper score on cohesion, your ideas should be well connected. 

Cohesive devices can be of great help to establish this relationship. Show more flexibility in using the cohesive devices, not just at the start of the sentence.

Here is how you can target to achieve the best score in Coherence and Cohesion.

  • Plan your essay with a proper structure before starting to write.
  • Express only one purpose in one paragraph.
  • State the primary idea of the paragraph in the first line
  • Explain it
  • Support it with relevant examples
  • Follow the I-E-E rule. Start with the Idea, Explain the topic and give Examples
  • While practising, highlight all the linking words used and check for repetition. Make a list of different words that could be used.

Writing Task Band Descriptor (Lexical Resource)

Band scoreWriting Task 1 DescriptorWriting Task 2 Descriptor
8• Fluent, with a wide range of vocabulary
• Confident in using infrequent lexical items
• Occasional inaccuracies
• Fluent and uses a wide range of vocabulary
• Occasional inaccuracies in collocation and lexical items
• Only a few errors in word formation and spelling
7• Adequate range of vocabulary with fewer lexical items
• Some errors in word formation or spelling 
• Adequate range of vocabulary
• Adequate use of collocation but inadequate lexical items
• Some errors in word formation and spellings
6• Non-common vocabulary
• Some errors in word formation or spelling, with no effect on communication
• Sufficient vocabulary
• Usage of uncommon vocabulary but few errors 
• some errors in word formation or spelling, with no impact on communication
5• Minimal vocabulary
• Noticeable errors in word formation or spelling
• Insufficient range of vocabulary
• Noticeable errors in word formation and spelling

Lexical Resource is a common marking criterion in Writing and Speaking.

It mainly judges the effective usage of the range of vocabulary. So, more comprehensive the range of vocabulary, higher the chances for a good score.

A few most important factors in this segment are:

Collocation – Collocation means the common usage of words in English. For example, we use ‘make noise’, but it is incorrect to write ‘do noise’. We ‘make a mistake’ and not ‘do a mistake’. Such rules can be learned only with practice.

Paraphrasing – Paraphrasing is rephrasing the given sentence in your own words. For the Writing tasks, use words that depict the same meaning to bring more clarity in your own words. During the Speaking test, use phrases such as ‘It’s a way of…’, ‘It’s like a…’, or ‘It’s a kind of…’

Synonyms – Synonyms are expressions or words that are giving out the same meaning. You can use a thesaurus to dominate this skill. For example, The goal/objective/outcome/target of this lecture is to help you identify different question types. But make sure to pick that synonym that accurately matches the context. 

Less common expressions – Usage of less common phrases is not a very important factor but can be tried if you are confident with it. Learn some idiomatic expressions; a couple of them suffices.

Writing Task Band Descriptor (Grammatical Range and Accuracy)

Band scoreWriting Task 1 DescriptorWriting Task 2 Descriptor
8• Mostly error-free sentences
• Occasional inappropriate usage of grammar
• Mostly error-free sentences
• Usage of different structure styles
7• Error-free sentences with usage of complex structures
• Few errors prominent
• Proper use of punctuation and grammar with some errors
• Usage of complex structures
6• A blend of simple and complex sentences
• Some errors in word formation or spelling without impact on communication
• Blend of simple and complex structures
• Some errors in word formation or spelling without impact on communication
5• Inaccurate complex sentences
• Faulty punctuation and grammatical errors
• Limited use of subordinate clauses
• Prominent sentence structure and punctuation errors

Grammatical Range and Accuracy stands the same in both Writing and Speaking.

It centres on the range and accuracy of grammar, the writer or the speaker uses.

Some key features (with examples) of this marking criterion are – 

  • Comparative Sentences
    • I like cycling more than driving.
    • Writing is as enjoyable as reading.
  • Passive Sentence Structures
    • These houses are being architected by German designers.
    • The entire house was cleaned by Roy.
  • Conditional Sentences
    • If you want, I can come to school with you.
    • I clean if he cooks.
  • Perfect Tenses
    • I have generated the code.
    • I have been teaching Science for seven years.
    • We had never thought about global warming until the recent news.
  • Modal Verbs
    • I can speak a little German.
    • I may be home early.
  • Future Tenses (useful for Speaking Part 2 and 3)
    • I’m travelling to Canada next year.
    • I will perhaps quit work in a couple of days.
  • Future Tenses (useful for Speaking Part 2 and 3)
    • I’m travelling to Canada next year.
    • I will perhaps quit work in a couple of days.
  • Complex Sentences (includes multiple bits of information packed in one sentence)
    • Because my tea was too cold, I heated it again.
    • He returned the item after he noticed it was damaged.

To know about all the Writing band scores, visit the links for Writing Task 1 and Writing Task 2.

Speaking Band Descriptor

The parts of the Speaking test are marked on: 

  • Fluency and Coherence
  • Lexical Resource (Common for Writing and Speaking)
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy (Common for Writing and Speaking)
  • Pronunciation

Speaking (Fluency and Coherence)

Band scoreDescriptor
8• Fluent with rare self-correction or repetition
• Rare instances of hesitation to search for the correct set of words
7• Coherent speech
• Hesitates demonstrating language
• Flexible using discourse markers
6• Occasional self-correction or repetition
• Inappropriate usage of discourse markers
5• Slow speech with frequent repetition and over usage of discourse markers
• Incorrect usage of complex structures

Fluency and Coherence is a significant segment to score at IELTS Speaking.

Fluency consists of your ability to express, analyse, discuss, and guess about concerns without finding the need to take long pauses and search for new words.

Coherence comprises your skill to organise ideas logically and appropriately signpost when required.

Speak at length to avoid answering in one word. Expand and construct long answers. 

Add some details each time you answer. For example, if you are asked, “Do you work or study?” you can respond by saying, “I work. I work as a Science teacher in Alberta for over eight years.”

Structure your speech by using the bullet points mentioned on the cue card. You get a minute to think over the topic. So, plan your speech accordingly using keywords.

Give suitable reasons, and state the proper effects. Support your points with examples. Make comparisons when necessary.

For Part 3, you may come across situations when you are unable to answer. You are either unaware of the question or have not understood it.

Below I have explained a few workable strategies to tackle some awkward situations. Read the sentences and try to use them while practicing.

  • When you do not know much about a topic, you can use sentences as:
    • “I’m not confident to answer that, but probably…”
    • “I’m sorry I am not sure how to answer that. However, I would say…”
  • When you cannot remember a word, you can pause and fill the gap as:
    • “What’s the word for…”
    • “It’s the thing which we…”
  • When you want to talk about too many points:
    • “In my view, there are five main points here.”
    • “I feel there are five main contrasting points.”
  • When you agree or do not agree with the examiner:
    • “Yes, I completely agree with you.”
    • “I’m not sure if I agree with that, because I feel…”

Use a variety of linking words. Repetition may not help to improve your score.

Find synonyms to six important words – And, But, If, So, Or, and Because.

Practice breaking the sentences into parts to take appropriate pauses and think about the next set of words.

Speaking (Lexical Resource)

Band scoreDescriptor
8• Flexible in using vocabulary resources
• Occasional inaccuracies but uses rare idiomatic vocabulary
7• Discusses different topics with vocabulary
• Inappropriate choices of collocation and idiomatic vocabulary
• Effective paragraphing
6• States meaning clearly with a wide range of vocabulary
5• Limited flexibility in talking about regular and irregular topics

To score high in Lexical Resource, you can refer to the points mentioned above in the Writing section.

Speaking (Grammatical Range and Accuracy)

Band scoreDescriptor
8• Flexible usage of sentence structures
• Mostly error-free sentences
7• Flexible usage of complex structures
• Mostly error-free sentences but with a few grammatical errors
6• Limited flexibility of the simple and complex structure
5• Adequate accuracy in basic sentences
• Usage of incorrect complex structures

The points to note for Grammatical Range and Accuracy of Writing and Speaking are listed in the Writing section.

Speaking (Pronunciation)

Band scoreDescriptor
8• Flexible usage of vivid pronunciation features but with a few gaps
• Easy to understand speech
7• Some positives of band 8 and all positives of band 6
6• Mixed usage of pronunciation features
• Reduced clarity because of incorrect pronunciation
5• Some positives of band 6
• Controlled pronunciation features

Pronunciation is another vital criterion of the Speaking exam. 

It is important to include different features and accurate pronunciation. Walk yourself through a few phonemic charts. 

Stressing on the correct syllable is mandatory to avoid losing marks.

To take an example,

deMOcracy, geoLOGical, GREENhouse

Refer to a dictionary if you are not familiar with pronouncing any word.

Similarly, watch out for sentence stress and even intonation. 

Check out how using the same sentence, but by stressing on different words can change its meaning in the following examples. The highlighted words are stressed.

Will you sell my bike? – Will you (out of everyone) take the responsibility to sell my bike?

Will you sell my bike? – Will you sell and not rent out my bike?

Will you sell my bike? – Will you sell the bike that belongs to me?

Will you sell my bike? – Will you sell my bike and not the car?

You can click here to get information on bands 0 to 4.

Use these band descriptors as the benchmark to set your target.

Considering all the points at once to score the maximum will be difficult.

There is a famous saying, “There is no glory in practice, but without practice, there is no glory.” So, keep practicing.

You can enroll to my courses and enable yourself to crack 7+ bands in each section of IELTS.

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